Valson Thampu

Many are eager to explain away the resounding victory of the AAP by attributing it entirely to the negativity of the BJP campaign. Admittedly, it played a part; but not a decisive part.
Not long ago, in the general elections of 2014, negativity did not amount to political self-immolation. The vigour of Modi’s stirring speeches stemmed mostly from the virulence of his attack. From one end of the country to the other, citizens lapped it up. If so, we have to look beyond the cliché of negativity to unpack the riddle of the BJP whitewash.
Two questions confront us from this scenario. Why did the Kejriwal phenomenon provoke disproportionate hate and calumny from the BJP? And, why did it backfire so badly? Against Rahul’s Congress, Modi’s animus was a walk in the park. Not so against Kejriwal’s AAP.
Modi could attack with devastating effect ‘Maa Aur Beta’ (mother and son) for their alleged misdeeds or no-deeds. He could attack Kejriwal only for who he is. That is always a risky thing to do. In relation to the rhetoric of attack, victims fall into two categories. First, there are those who get more degraded the more they are attacked. Second, there are others – admittedly a rare breed- who become more valorised on account of being maligned. In their case, detractors provide them the stage they need to prove their mettle. Their enemies turn out to be their enablers.
The anxiety of the keepers of the status quo begins to tear away from the growing popular appeal of their hate-objects. The litmus test of the relevance of the emerging paradigm – aptly described by Ashish Khaitan of the AAP as the ‘birth of a new hope’ – is this widening gulf: between the anxiety of the privileged and the enthusiasm of the under-privileged.
Compared to the club-members of privilege -who are always a microscopic minority in any society- the vast majority of people are under-privileged. Their chafing sense of under-privilege remains, for the most part, a silent volcano. It is there to be activated by those who have the credentials. This should be a nightmare not only for BJP, but also for all other parties stuck in the old, discredited political paradigm.
This explains the pan-Indian impact – ridiculously disproportionate to its as yet tiny footprint – of the AAP. In a short span of time the AAP, has emerged as the benchmark of political sanity. Parties are now forced to measure themselves by the AAP yardstick. This is an achievement far greater than that of broom-storming the capital.
We must spare a thought for the parties caught between the BJP and the AAP. They are, as of now, endangered by the BJP and over-shadowed by the AAP. The BJP is described, not inaccurately, as a juggernaut. It could crush them out of existence. The AAP is more like the sunrise that makes a million stars disappear.
For long we have held it axiomatic that there is no room for a ‘third front’ in Indian polity. It is unlikely that the merger of endangered political parties will guarantee their survival for long. Not ganging up against Modi, but reforming along the lines of the AAP might secure their survival. It is not for nothing that parties fear AAP’s venturing beyond the borders of Delhi.
Give AAP time
“Between the ‘never again’ of departing gods and the ‘not-yet’ of the gods to come”, wrote Martin Heidegger, “we are in the dark night of the soul”. But there is dawn on the other side of that darkness. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect the fledgling AAP government to walk sure-footed right away. Margin for error is the minimum charity that a society must extend to its dreamers and innovators. To punish well-meaning mistakes is to suppress innovations and to forestall hope.
The magnanimity that citizens thus extend should be matched by humility on the part of the recipients. Fortunately, in the present instance, it is. Kejriwal stands alone on our political landscape for his honesty in admitting that he committed mistakes. This is a healthy sign. Those who defend their mistakes by denying the truth or attacking the accusers are sure to perpetuate their mistakes. One defends only what one deems essential. To defend corruption is to insist that it is basic to politics. In this the Congress and the BJP have been vying with each other.
This is not simple arrogance. Politically, arrogance is nothing in itself; for politics is not a morality play. The defining element is commitment to the people. We had come to endorsing the cynical dogma that politics is the art of the possible. Now a different definition is blowing in the wind. Politics can also be the art of the impossible. Like empowering the common man, for example.
The craving to flaunt is innate in acquisitiveness. Beacon lights and its complement of security over-kill are much more than a cosmetic phenomenon. The disease is the distortion of governance that excludes the masses, hugely advantages the ruling elite and adorns them with insecurity as the sign of ‘importance’. As a rule, the more intrinsically unworthy a person is, the greater is his need for proverbial fig-leaves. It is this that validates the VIP culture and sustains the dogma of its indispensability.
Understandably, Kejriwal is apprehensive as he assumes office. He knows the awesomeness of what has come upon him. It is important that he and his team succeed. This is not only an AAP imperative. It is also the common man’s need. The obdurate persistence of the old paradigm, despite the evident signs of its pathology, is bad news except for the vested interests that thrive on status quo. That there is a morning beyond the darkness is what enables us to endure the night. We must endure, even if the night lasts all of five years.
(The writer is Principal, St Stephen’s College, New Delhi)